Avengers, dissemble! AGE OF ULTRON swaps character for ‘splosions

avengers age of ultron costumes

You guys, I finally saw Avengers: Age of Ultron last night! I am now counted among the true believers once again (read: I can go back to Tumblr).

But despite my uber-excitement after how much I loved the first Avengers and Guardians of the Galaxy, I have to admit, I left the theater disappointed.

It’s been suggested that my disappointment is a result of too-high expectations, misunderstanding the filmmakers’ intentions, not being able to keep up with the breakneck pace of the story, and/or simple failed hype. Maybe. Those are all entirely plausible explanations.

But I don’t think I’m expecting too much for this Avengers to be as well-written, well-directed, and well-played as the first. I do understand the filmmakers had boatloads of story and characterization and Phase 3 setup to cram into 2h 20m. I was breathless with the pace, but I was never lost for long. And I didn’t watch Finding Nemo for five years because I didn’t want hype to influence me, so pbbbbhhhttt to that.

After mulling it over, feeling like a super Bad Geek, I quickly realized the root of my disappointment lies in the most obvious of places: the storytelling.

Ultron feels like it’s two movies crammed into one. Or two different treatments of the same story by two different writers/directors, then spliced together by a third guy. There’s a disjointed quality between being a Very Serious Civil War Buildup Movie and a Fun Superhero Movie with Big Ideas. Like it can’t decide what to be. I agree this could be intentional–broken framing is a great way to enhance the point that the movie’s about dysfunction–but it’s heavyhanded and overused, destroying the sense of flow that connects us to the characters who, by the way, are why we give a shit about watching eleven movies (so far) in the first place.

The dissonance between these two styles is so strong that I entirely forgot I was watching a Joss Whedon flick and not a Michael Bay actionporn except for blips of perfectly-timed humor and heartwrenching moments. Worse, those gems of Jossness that made Avengers so fantastic are trite, jarring or downright huh? when presented against the megaserious backdrop. Entire scenes are out of place (Why did we spend so much time at Rancho Barton and go to Thor’s cave (that sounds bad)?) and characters’ attempts at humor or three dimensions fall flat without space to breathe. The final film is a battleground between leashed Joss and the studio, resulting in a clunky story that doesn’t measure up to the tight, witty, emotionally-invested bar set by Avengers.

AND ANOTHER THING.

captain america tears log in half avengers age of ultron

There are tons of supercool ideas presented in Ultron that I wanted to explore more deeply, but given the frantic pace, we don’t get that chance. I wanted to understand Ultron and his evolution; at the beginning, he parrots Tony and perverts the idea of peace through a computer’s lens, then 20 minutes before the end says he’s “gone beyond” that. How?! Further, we’re thrown Vision and he’s accepted immediately, his comment about being neither Ultron nor Jarvis buried under “get ‘im, Ray!” talk. The power of fear is touched on, but we never know what Bruce saw or how Steve managed to not go batshit broken like the rest of the team. And what about the fascinating relationship between Banner and Romanov–where did that come from?! Because of the film’s leaping  between action sequences, we miss out on goldmines of ideas and the precious storylines and entanglements that come with exploring them.

There are a bunch of other nitpicky things I could harp on (too-convenient twists, for example), but the basic gist of my disappointment is that Age of Ultron is filled with conflicted, disjointed storytelling with too much focus on OMG THE WORLD WILL END and not enough on character and ideas.

All that being said, I promise I didn’t hate Ultron. I’d see it again! (Besides, I’m reserving my “least favorite Marvel movie” spot for Ant-Man.)  I’m just sad it was so lackluster. Somewhere between Iron Man 3: Tony is Has Feels (slow, one idea, overwrought) and Ultron: Do All The Things (overstuffed, unfocused, flat) is the right balance of plot, character, ideas, and franchise. They nailed it with Iron Man, Avengers, and Guardians; as a decent fangirl, I believe they’ll find it again.

On the upside, there’s this:

Black Widow motorcycle dropping from Quinjet Age of Ultron


 

The three sweetest words anyone can say

Broken heart by Gabriela Camerotti via Flickr

I’m sitting across from a dear friend whom I’m meeting for the first time in person. We giggle and gossip for the first couple of hours, but as those initial butterflies dissipate, more serious topics drift to the surface, and my anxiety rises.

Sharing the intimate details of my life isn’t something I shy away from. But I find it monumentally hard to share if it’s been more than a couple weeks between updates. There’s a lot going on in my mind/heart/spleen that underpins what people see, and whenever I need to catch someone up, I struggle because the story is so complicated. I often say nothing at all because there’s too much to explain to ensure they understand.

This time, I decide to dive in anyway because she’s the kind of friend that encourages you to tell your life story just by her existing. I start at the beginning. I say life’s been hard since my surgery. That I’m freaking about my career. That Lino and I are having problems. That I feel lost. That solutions are elusive and scary.

She nods and smiles empathetically.

I open my mouth to start explaining the emotional, mental, and spiritual backstory for each of those little factoids. “It’s just…” I say.

But she waves a nonchalant hand through the air to cut me off.

“Whatever, girl” she says somewhere between a laugh and a sigh, “I get it.”

And then, utter relief.

I don’t have to explain. She knows. Simple as that.

We continue our conversation for another hour or so before the waitress starts making pointed throat-clearing noises.

We hug on the sidewalk, and as we scoot off towards our respective destinations, she says, “I love you!”

I smile and wave.

As I walk back to my car, I’m all twitterpated. My heart is full and singing, my step light and bouncy. It takes me a while, almost to the highway, before realize that I feel loved.

Not because she said she loves me. But because she said she gets it.

“I love you” has been watered down to the point where it no longer means much. We love tacos, we love snow, we love running, we love beer, we love the smell of napalm in the morning. We “love” so many things, ideas, people, and substances that by the time we say the words to someone we want to bond with, to express their importance to us, the statement has little meaning. It’s been drained of its magic.

But “I get it” may be the sweetest, most meaningful thing anyone can say. There’s so much wrapped up in that phrase that we’ve erased from the more standard three little words. It encompasses such a depth of intimacy – of hearing, knowing, having been there, grokking what you’re laying down without having to explain. To “get” another person is to see them heart-to-heart. It’s what we want most from one another, particularly in a romantic relationship – to be seen.

That, my friends, is real love.


 

“I pee more after ten”: a story about stories

Mitosis by palnk via deviantart

In 9th grade biology, I learned about mitosis. Cell division isn’t something that typically sticks in the mind, much less that of a hormonal 15-year-old worried about student council elections, boners, and acne. The stages are so similar-sounding that they’re easily chased from memory when, say, an upperclassman asks you to Prom. But a decade later and a whole country away from high school, I still remember the phases of mitosis because of a story.

Our teacher, Ms. Watts*, was young, had a big laugh, stood all of five feet tall, had school-marm style, and bribed us with Tootsie Rolls for being the first person to shout out that ATP is “energy a cell can use.” The first day of the mitosis chapter, she stood in front of the class with her ubiquitous purple coffee mug in hand, waving it for emphasis as she talked. She laid out the five stages of the process, and you could feel the air glaze over with boredom.

And then, in a flash of insight that separates average teachers from great ones, she burst out with, “I pee more after ten.”

There was dead silence for a good five seconds. Then everyone burst out laughing. Of course we laughed (I bet you did, too) – she just said “pee” to a roomful of teenagers!

After the giggling died down, she explained.

“Every day, I drink two cups of coffee before school starts, then I hit it again around ten when I start to get sleepy. But every cup of coffee after that sends me to the bathroom because of all the caffeine. I take the coffee in; my body breaks it down, divides it up, and gets rid of it.

“Kind of like the phases of mitosis: IPMAT is interphase, prophase, metaphase, anaphase, and telophase, but it’s also ‘I pee more after ten.’ If you can link that acronym to my coffee addiction, it might help you guys remember for your test.”

And it did.

I’m a grown woman and still remember this little factoid because my teacher told me she drinks so much coffee she has to pee every hour on the hour after 10am.

I’m telling you that so I can tell you this: Your stories are important.

If Ms. Watts hadn’t revealed that smidgen of insight into her personal life, the less eggheaded students likely wouldn’t have passed mitosis. Because she told us this silly (true) story, we absorbed knowledge and got to know our teacher. When we found out she was leaving at the end of the year, students cried. All because she told us her bathroom schedule.

Life is a series of interrelated stories, and sharing them helps us connect with each other. That’s why we talk about ourselves so much – we’re trying to connect with other people who get it, who share our experience, who can supplement our growth with their own insights. We see ourselves in someone else’s story and use it to learn about our own lives. The more stories we tell, the more stories we hear, the more we grow, the more we connect, the more stories we have to tell.

So don’t hide what you have to say. Tell your stories – in writing, painting, dance, or just casual conversation – because they must be told.

No matter how silly, how embarrassing, how scary, how mundane, how boring you think your experience is, there is someone out there who needs to hear it.

* – I swear that’s her real name. Clearly, she was destined to be a science teacher.